“We didn’t know the flood was coming. It was nighttime and we were asleep in our rooms,” says 43-year-old Rukhtaj, a mother of six. “Some people came and woke us up. They warned us that the water is rising. So we grabbed our children as quickly as possible and ran.
“We left all of our things so we lost everything. Still, we were very lucky…maybe only 20 minutes passed from when we were woken up to when the water came.”
Rukhtaj and her family are one of millions of Pakistanis left homeless, hungry, and without clean water following massive flooding throughout their country. Women without husbands or extended family are particularly vulnerable.
Hajraiba is a 40-year-old widow with nine children, four under the age of five. When surging water swept away her small house, she was left with nothing. A relative gave her a room for her ten-person family, but the room was flood-damaged and she worries it could collapse at any time.
Before the flood, her 13-year-old son worked in a chicken farm; his salary was their only income. “The farm was by the river and it was washed away by the rains too,” she says. “So now we have no income and no money.”
Catholic Relief Services teams are navigating landslides and flood-destroyed roads to get aid to Pakistan’s most needy families, including widows like Hajraiba. Included in the emergency kits are plastic sheeting to create temporary shelters, sleeping mats, cookware and a covered bucket for water storage. Families also receive a light source, especially important since snakes are common and many people are being bitten at night.
The large bucket makes a big difference to families who had no way to carry plenty of water before. “My children went all the time to the spring to get water in a small saucepan and a borrowed bucket,” says Hajraiba. “It was very difficult. I am using everything that CRS gave and am very grateful.”
Rukhtaj’s story is similar. “Before we received things from CRS, we had only two small jugs to carry water for 40 people. The children spent most of the day coming to and from the spring,” she says. “It was very hard because we could not bring enough water.”
The sleeping mats are also being put to good use. “Initially after the flood, we stayed with our relatives. But there was no space for us to lie down so we slept sitting up,” says Rukhtaj. “It was very uncomfortable and we did not sleep well. Now that we received floor mats from CRS we are using these to sleep in the two rooms of our house that are still standing. It is still very crowded, but we are happy at least to be able to lie down.”
Rukhtaj is using the CRS cookware to make food for 40 people. Before, “we had only one sauce pan for making bread because everything else was washed away. We had to cook for only a few people at a time,” she says. “Now we can make food for our family more easily.”
Though floodwaters are receding in the north, many people in the south are still on the move. Women and children left their flood-threatened homes first; men tried to stay to watch after cattle, but soon followed. The number of homeless is growing.
“It is very difficult to cope with this disaster,” says Rukhtaj. “What gets us through this is that we believe that God will help us.”
–Compiled from field interviews conducted by CRS Besham staff
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